Hunter Stockton Thompson (July 18, 1937 – February 20, 2005) was an American journalist and author, and the founder of the gonzo journalism movement. Born in Louisville, Kentucky,
to a middle-class family, Thompson had a turbulent youth after the
death of his father left the family in poverty. He was unable to
formally finish high school as he was incarcerated for 60 days after
abetting a robbery. He subsequently joined the United States Air Force
before moving into journalism. He traveled frequently, including stints
in California, Puerto Rico, and Brazil, before settling in Aspen, Colorado, in the early 1960s.
Thompson became internationally known with the publication of Hell’s Angels (1967). For his research on the book he had spent a year living and riding with the motorcycle gang Hells Angels,
experiencing their members’ lives and hearing their stories first-hand.
Previously a relatively conventional journalist, with the publication
in 1970 of The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved he became a counter-cultural figure, with his own brand of New Journalism
which he termed “Gonzo”, an experimental style of journalism where
reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree that they
become central figures of their stories. The work he remains best known
for, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), constitutes a rumination on the failure of the 1960s counterculture movement. It was first serialized in Rolling Stone, a magazine with which Thompson would be long associated, and was adapted into film a couple of times; loosely as Where the Buffalo Roam with Bill Murray in 1980, and again, more successfully in 1998, as the eponymous film starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro and directed by Terry Gilliam.
Politically minded, Thompson ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, in 1970, on the Freak Power ticket. He became well known for his inveterate hatred of Richard Nixon, who he claimed represented “that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character” and whom he characterized in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
Thompson’s output notably declined from the mid-1970s, as he struggled
with the consequences of fame, and he complained that he could no longer
merely report on events as he was too easily recognized. He was also
known for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs, his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. He remarked: “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”
After a bout of health problems, Thompson committed suicide at the
age of 67. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were fired out of a
cannon in a ceremony funded by his friend Johnny Depp and attended by
friends including then-Senator John Kerry and Jack Nicholson. Hari Kunzru
wrote that “the true voice of Thompson is revealed to be that of
American moralist … one who often makes himself ugly to expose the
ugliness he sees around him.”
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